Spartan blog

Ironman v Ultrarunner



There are no big or small tasks, all are of equal importance.


The Lakeland 50 (or half hundred) is a 50 mile hilly fun run that accompanies the Lakeland 100 as part of the Ultra Tour of the Lake district.


It was, of course, Hackos that suggested I should run the Lakeland 50.  I threw my name in the hat for Matt Boot’s place and got lucky, or unlucky, depending upon how you look at it.  In return I have brought Hackos to the world of triathlon.  As I competed in the Outlaw Iron-distance three weeks ago the obvious question arose.  “what’s harder, Ironman or Ultra?”



If you haven’t seen Ironman vs Ultrarunner you should watch it now:

Apart from cracking me up, the animation touches on some of the extreme behaviours that are exhibited by athletes in each sport.  I sit partly in both camps…I make graphs and I’m a bit stinky on occasion, but the two disciplines are no longer mutually exclusive.  The situation reminds me a bit of snowboarders vs skiers.  Twenty years ago, you couldn’t get the two on the same mountain, but now snowboard technology has informed ski development and with freestyle and ski cross, the sports are more and more similar, and better for it.  When I go away with my two snowboard mates, its as my brother says, “it doesn’t matter what piece of wood you have strapped to your feet, its what you do on the snow that counts.  And so it is with Ultra Running.  Stuart Mills, winner of the 100, is a scientific as they come, and Charlie Sharpe – second and closing the gap – gets well prepared for the gradients and the course.  I wonder if the influence is going to run in the opposite direction.  Certainly Daniel Clarke’s approach to tri endurance comes from a trail running background.  I’m going to reflect on the race before returning to the ‘question’.


I went into this race with two race plans and an open mind as to which to employ.  The first was Steve Ormisher’s ‘Smash-it’ plan.  Get out, run hard until I could run no more, and then walk to the finish.  The advantage of this approach is to get as much distance covered by nightfall, as the race sets off at 11:30.  Plan 2 is to use my Ironman experience and get through the first 24 miles as frugally as possible so that I just have a marathon to complete.  I love the idea that 24 miles running easy has to be easier than a 2.8 swim and a 180k ride, just leaving a marathon to complete.  There is, however, no easy running in the LL50, except at the end on the road into Coniston.


I hadn’t reccied this race.  I had taken an afternoon out from a mates wedding weekend and run out of Kentmere, with Sadie, in both directions, and naively concluded that both hills were runnable.  I know the terrain around Langdale, but beyond that it was all to be new ground, and I liked that, pure Boys Own adventure.  I had no preconceptions about the race, and only two targets other than finishing.


So, 11:30 27th July 2013, Dalemain and we are off.  Its 25°+ and the air is still.  588 runners set off on a 4-mile loop before leaving the estate and I position myself about a third of the way back and consider which plan to use.  After 2 miles I already know.  After getting scorched at Outlaw, my body is already reeling in the heat, its whispering “don’t put me through this again” and I’m listening.  I’m thinking, 4x10K at low heart rate and then see how we go.  Boy, the first big climb is tough and I am already of the conclusion that I’m not running all of this.  I’m easy through Howtown checkpoint at 10 miles-ish.  I’m running with a lady called Amanda who is trying to catch her husband.  We pace each other up the hill and there he is – Rob Frodsham.  It seems I run with Rob for a period in every Ultra, although I’ve never seen him outside a race.  It’s just one of those things.  We run together out of Pooley Bridge and cat-and-mouse through to Fusedale.  I’m cramping already at the top of Fusedale and it takes a mile or so of running over Bampton Common to get into a good stride.  Hawkswater is hard work, but looks beautiful and I want to swim, not run.  The path is narrow, the bracken is high and its unbearably hot and there is no air movement.  Flies are biting me and Mardale Head car park is not getting any closer.  Then the ground gives way, I twist my ankle and slice my finger on falling.  The twist isn’t bad but I’ve bruised my hip.  I go straight for the Ibuprofen and jog into Mardale.  20 miles in and I am tired, but feel that I’ve not being going for too long.


Spartans run this CP and it’s like an F1 Pitstop.  The Offsted Excellence of the service under the headship of Mr. Boot sees my water bladder filled and electrolytes provided, and after shot-gunning a gel I start the climb up Gatescarth Pass.  At this point I realise that the way to train for this race is by doing some very steep hillwalking-and lots of it (John Kleiser, this is your kind of race).  The relief of the run down from the saddle is short lived as the heavily damaged 4x4 track has been repaired by stones on edge.  Every one of these strike the sole of my foot like a metal bar.  If I was doing a path-design degree and undertaking a module in designing paths that hurt to run on, I couldn’t do better than this.  But, as the path flattens out, I’m on familiar ground and heading up and over towards Kentmere.  I know from Steve Mee that they serve fresh strawberry smoothies at the Kentmere CP, and this is also the start of my second marathon, so time to man up.


There’s a few faces I know at Kentmere, but the one that tickles me most is Jason Stobbs.  I’ve seen some grimaces and pain, particularly all the people suffering at Mardale but Jason is grinning.  I’ve seen kids sniffing glue who grin like this.  He’s verging on manic and as I watch him power away from me up Garburn Pass I know why, this race was made for him!  Good lad, I’m inspired and I’m away.  Through Troutbeck and on towards Ambleside and the heavens open.  I’m soaked in seconds but WTF, all the town is out cheering us on.  I get organised at Ambleside CP, eat a chocolate bar and push on through to Chapel Style.  My info source tells me that Hackos is moving again – good, I was worried he’d blown it.  Somehow Nick Wishart is behind me but I don’t remember passing him (I found out later he took the wrong turn and made it a true double marathon – I’m kinda jealous), then I start running down towards the CP.  Wow, its like an oasis, twilight is here and this white marquee with fairy lights, a fire and real armchairs appears like a mirage… and it serves coffee, I drink two and leave.  I’m now running with Nigel, a top man whose run the 100 twice and we decide to buddy up for a while, up Langdale, across the moor past Blea Tarn and through to the unmanned CP.  This guy is great, he’s so experienced that he says, ‘run here, no advantage running here, pick up the pace here’.  He’s cramping a little and I try to take the lead and do my bit.  After Tilberthwaite we climb ‘the steps’ together and lead a group of 10.  Over the top and on the way down I’m like a stag.  A combination of adrenalin and gravity pushes me on and I want to leave that pack behind, one guy stays with me – Nigel I assume and when I ask if he’s OK, Hackos answers.  Where did you come from dude!  I’m over the moon, he’s recovered and like a steam train.  You’d say ‘what are the chances?’ but this is trail running and these things happen.


Now, I’ve never beaten Hackos in a race and one things for sure, I’m not losing to him today, so I ask the question – two miles to go mate, race me or cross the line together, your choice?  He answers, and there is only one answer.  We cross the line together after finishing at 6 minute mile pace….Boom.  LL50 smashed.


If you are wondering, my two goals were:


  1. To beat the other John Moorhouse in the race.  A mindless goal as I have no idea who, or how good he is, but I keep coming across this chap, we were due to race at Excalibur but he DNS, but I beat him on this occasion.
  2. To beat my best Ironman time of 12:41, which I did by 6 minutes


So can I answer Hackos’ question, which is harder, Ironman or the 50.  Hmm, I’ll have to do them both again before I stick my neck out.


See you next year!!!!




Jon Moorhouse's picture